By Michael Gros
Throughout Adele and Jack Kaufman’s life, they have repeatedly felt Hashem’s hand guiding them towards Jewish growth and observance. However the ways He has chosen to do so have been comical: their teshuva journey began at a Christian Marriage Encounter weekend, and a major turning point in their life was influenced by an inspirational button.
Adele was raised in a Modern Orthodox home. Her parents attended a local Young Israel synagogue, but she felt that she could not receive satisfying answers to her many questions on Judaism.
“I never received answers,” Adele said. “Now I know I didn’t get answers because they themselves didn’t know.”
Adele grew up, married Jack, and the couple settled on Long Island. They joined a Conservative synagogue and raised a family. They felt like their life was perfect.
“It was a wonderful life. We were very happy. If anyone would have told me we would become Baalei Teshuva, I would have laughed at it,” Adele said.
Though they had a successful marriage, the Kaufmans accepted a friend’s offer to attend a Christian Marriage Encounter Weekend. The weekends, organized by a church, tried to teach couples better communication techniques and other strategies to help them improve their marriages.
The weekend concluded with a Mass service. The Kaufmans and the few other Jewish couples sat in the back of the room and watched the service, feeling greatly out of place.
A few weeks later, a friend suggested they start a Jewish Marriage Encounter weekend. A few couples got together and started one. Adele and Jack went on the Jewish Marriage Enecounter weekend and learned how holy a Jewish marriage is, consisting of husband, wife and Hashem.
Also attending the weekend was a local Chabad couple, who wanted to find out what it was about. Afterwards the Chabad couple offered to start monthly Jewish groups in local homes. Adele and Jack decided to host the groups in their house. In addition to marriage, the classes covered Kashrut, Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Adele was finally getting answers to her questions.
One week the Chabad Rebbetzin asked Adele if she lit candles on Friday night.
“I said no, since I work all week and we go out to eat on Friday night,” Adele said. “The Rebbetzin explained that the mitzvah of lighting candles is not erased by going out to eat. ‘Try lighting candles, and don’t tell me what you do afterwards. Bring in the light and beauty of Shabbat.’”
Adele took her up on her offer and began lighting candles at home. After a few months, she decided to start making Shabbat dinners at home each week.
“I said to my husband, ‘Why go out? Let’s make a Shabbat meal so we can enjoy the beautiful Shabbat candles.”
From there, Adele and Jack began bringing other small observances into their home. For the first time they decided to kasher their home for Passover. Adele made a full-blown Passover Seder in their newly kosher home.
One day, Adele decided that it was time for her husband to start putting on Tefillin each morning. He owned a pair, but did not put them on regularly. So Adele began dropping subtle hints and suggestions to get him to start using them, but she soon saw that it wasn’t working.
“What does a wife do when she wants her husband to do something? She nags. I asked him to put on Tefillin again and again,” Adele said. “Finally he told me to stop nagging. I decided my marriage was more important and so did not mention it anymore.”
Hashem had different plans.
A few days later, a friend called Adele. She had visited Crown Heights for the day, and in a store window saw a sign that read “Buy One Bag Of Buttons, Get The Second Bag Free.” So her friend bought two bags, and was calling to ask Adele if she wanted one.
“I didn’t want to hurt her. I’m not a button person, but I said ‘sure, come over.’”
Adele was in for a surprise when she opened the bag.
“The first button I saw when I opened my bag read ‘Have You Put On Tefillin Today?’”
Adele dropped the button in shock. She could not believe the wording on the button, but now had a dilemma: She had promised her husband that she would no longer nag him, so what to do with the button?
“I said, ‘Hashem what should I do?’ I decided if it doesn’t come out of my mouth, it’s ok,” Adele said. “I decided to put it in his underwear drawer so he would notice it when he showered. I was very nervous. He would either laugh or get upset.
“I was sitting in the kitchen. He went upstairs to shower. The next thing I knew, I heard him laughing so hard.”
The following morning Adele came downstairs for breakfast, and there was her husband, praying and wearing Tefillin. For him it was a major step, one of many more that have come since.
Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Jerusalem. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com